Oh, the places I’ll go?

As a second-semester junior, I am expected to have the next part of my life charted out. Some of my peers have the rest of their lives planned: where they want to go to graduate school, and to study what, and in which area they envision themselves settling down.

I can’t say the same. Up until three months ago, I didn’t even know if I wanted to go to medical school. I have no immediate plans to take the MCAT, still have two remaining pre-med classes to take, and have no dream medical school.

I knew I wanted to take a gap year after graduating, but I didn’t know to do what or to go where.

Trying to map my future feels like trying to complete a 9×9 Sudoku puzzle with only 3 clues. The possibilities are endless, and anything can be an answer.

Most of the time, I am pretty good at taking life one step at a time. But some days, I am overwhelmed by the thoughts of the future – immediate and distant. These last three weeks have been especially difficult.

As the semester begins to wrap up, I am confronted with a mountain of schoolwork and exams, as well as extracurricular commitments that have built up. This is the immediate hurdle I must overcome.

At the same time, this is no regular semester – it is my third to last semester as an undergraduate. At the conclusion of next semester, some of my peers will know where they will be spending their next four years as a graduate student. In the semester after that, we will be graduating college, and heading off to another bigger, and hopefully better, chapter of our lives.

Much of the planning, then, takes place this semester. Much of this planning, though, feels like grasping for air – much time wasted, but very little gained, if at all.

Fortunately, I am now at a much better place than I was three months ago.

In the upcoming year, I will be working to attain a Master’s degree in Bioethics. In my near future, I see a career as an ethicist, which lines up neatly with the bulk of the research I have been doing in the last three years.

And hopefully, one day not too far away, I will attend medical school and ultimately become a neurosurgeon or neurologist.

As the dust settles, I am starting to see a path.

I am reminded of a Chinese idiom, “车到山前必有路,船到桥头自然直。” The literal translation is, “When the train gets to the mountain, there will be a way; when the boat gets to the pier-head, it will go straight with the current.”

Things are finally starting to fall into place. I am beginning to have a direction in life, and can rest easy that I have an ultimate goal I’d like to achieve.

But very little of this was planned. I ended up in Cleveland for college because all of my other plans fell through. I joined a sorority on a hunch. I applied for the Bioethics program on a whim.

Still, the old Chinese idiom was right – when you get to the mountain, there will be a path.

For some people, this path is planned. But for me, it is forged, one step at a time.

Fin.

Writer’s Note:
Some translators equate the Chinese idiom with the English saying, “We’ll cross the bridge when we get to it.” I personally think that these two sayings convey slightly different messages.

A Day at the Villa

The story of a woman traveling to find herself is a literary cliché. It usually starts with the woman, successful but unfulfilled and in an emotionally unsatisfying relationship, who breaks off from everything to travel. In her exotic journey, she discovers true love and experiences spiritual (and gustatory) awakening.

I cannot say that my Miami travels have done that much. It was, however, incredibly refreshing to travel down South and experience the beautiful sunshine and clean water, especially having lived in cloudy Cleveland for so long.

Miami is an incredibly photogenic city; and I am very glad that I brought Marcus along to document it all. Because the large volume of photographs taken, I will be splitting the trip into multiple posts.

I was incredibly lucky to have traveled with some wonderful friends, who were super flexible to changes in our schedule, and adventurous enough to go to (sometimes shady) places with me.

On our first full day, we visited Villa Vizcaya – the home of industrialist James Deering – in the beautiful Coconut Grove. I took a few snaps of the interior, which is of a mix of Asian, European, and American furnishings. We spent most of our time outdoors, in the Italian Renaissance-styled Garden, where we had some mini-photoshoots.

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Fin.

Writer’s note:
(1) Check out this interesting article on privlit, specifically Eat, Pray, Love, here.

(2) We visited the Cuban later that day, as well, and was lucky enough to bask in the art of Luis Cruz Azaceta
(3) We also watched Cargo by Kareem J. Mortimer, which, in short, was an incredibly memorable film that takes place against the backdrop of a refugee crisis. 
(4) A full itinerary can be found below.

Continue reading “A Day at the Villa”

Outtakes

I cannot believe there are only 5 days left of 2016 – and I definitely cannot believe that it’s been 23 days since I last posted. (Not such a great track record for a new endeavor, now is it?) I’ve accumulated some photos in the three-week period I’ve spent with Marcus, my trusty Pentax KS2. While I’ve been uploading select photos onto Project 365, here are some of the outtakes form this month-long period that didn’t quite make it to any blog posts.

Before I left Cleveland for winter break, I took some time off after finals to visit the museums around campus. I stopped by the Cleveland Museum of Natural History (CMNH) and Cleveland Museum of Art.

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Average food waste per household. Seen at the Our Global Kitchen exhibit at the CMNH. Taken on December 14, 2016 using a Pentax KS2.
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Aztec market place, as seen in OGK exhibit at CMNH. Taken using a Pentax KS2 on December 14, 2016.

The Cleveland Museum of Natural History is currently putting on a food exhibit called Our Global Kitchen (here); it centers around food and its cultural influences and impacts. It’s incredibly fascinating, and the museum did a great job building interactive and fun displays. There is also a food kitchen, hosted weekly in conjunction with Whole Foods Market.

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Ever wondered how Kublai Khan enjoyed his breakfast? Well, now you know! As seen at OGK, at CMNH. Taken using a Pentax KS2 on December 14, 2016.
Eating utensils from all around the world. OGK exhibit, Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Pentax KS2 // December 14, 2016.
Eating utensils from all around the world. OGK exhibit, Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Pentax KS2 // December 14, 2016.

I also visited the Cleveland Museum of Art, a place which I’ve photographed extensively already. Though, I must say, with 55,000 sqm of floor space, you’re always discovering new things. The Asian art galleries are my favorite, but I decided to venture to cover the whole gallery and see what new items were up on rotation.

Tree Root with carved base at CMA. Pentax KS2 // December 14, 2016.
Tree Root with carved base at CMA. Pentax KS2 // December 14, 2016.
The Wade Family Tiffany Necklaces, on loan from (L) CMNH, and (R) Tiffany & Co. Special Centennial loan at CMA. Taken on December 14, 2016 using a Pentax KS2.
The Wade Family Tiffany Necklaces, on loan from (L) CMNH, and (R) Tiffany & Co. Special Centennial loan at CMA. Taken on December 14, 2016 using a Pentax KS2.
View of Baroque Gallery from Gallery 301, at the CMA. Taken on December 14, 2016 using a Pentax KS2.
View of Baroque Gallery from Gallery 301, at the CMA. Taken on December 14, 2016 using a Pentax KS2.

I was not disappointed. I came across the Wade Family Tiffany Jewels (here) in Gallery 221. I also discovered Gallery 301, also known as the Collector’s Cabinet. It sits perched on the third floor, overlooking the Baroque gallery. The gallery space is incredibly tiny, but what it lacks in floor space it makes up for in peace and view.

Wade Park, the greenspace that surrounds the CMA and CMNH is always beautiful during the winter time. The lighting installations look great among the fresh snow we got in Cleveland during the time.

Big red chair. Wade Oval, Cleveland, OH. Peek the Weatherhead School of Business building in the background, designed by the one and only Frank Gehry. Pentax KS2 // December 14, 2016.
Big red chair. Wade Oval, Cleveland, OH. Peek the Weatherhead School of Business building in the background, designed by the one and only Frank Gehry. Pentax KS2 // December 14, 2016.
Dandelions in Wade Oval, Cleveland, OH. Pentax KS2 // December 14, 2016.
Dandelions in Wade Oval, Cleveland, OH. CMA in the background. Pentax KS2 // December 14, 2016.

In addition to museum hopping, I spent a lot of time eating! I love photographing food, because the colors offer great contrast. My favorite is when there is movement; I think food is meant to be eaten so I love photographing food that’s half eaten or being eaten. What better way to show that food tastes good than by photographing people eating it, right?

Korean food with girlfriends at Korea House on Superior Avenue, Cleveland, OH. Taken with a Pentax KS2 on December 14, 2016.
Korean food with girlfriends at Korea House on Superior Avenue, Cleveland, OH. Taken with a Pentax KS2 on December 14, 2016.
Korean food with girlfriends at Korea House. I ordered the Sundubu! Yum. Taken using a Pentex KS2 on December 14, 2016.
Korean food with girlfriends at Korea House. I ordered the Sundubu! Yum. Taken using a Pentex KS2 on December 14, 2016.
11/365: Brunch with sisters at the Washington Place Inn. I ordered the Eggs in a Nest. Pentax KS2 // December 17, 2016.
11/365: Brunch with sisters at the Washington Place Inn. I ordered the Eggs in a Nest. Pentax KS2 // December 17, 2016.
14/365: Friends and food at Yard House. Pentax KS2 // December 20, 2016.
14/365: Friends and food at Yard House. Pentax KS2 // December 20, 2016.

I’ve got to give credit where credit is due, and I must say that Cleveland’s food scene is a solid A+. Most restaurants generally aren’t very expensive, and you get great food for what you pay for. I don’t think I’ve had a bad meal at a restaurant in the 3 years I’ve been in Cleveland.

Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. Pentax KS2 // December 21, 2016.
Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. Pentax KS2 // December 21, 2016.

Upon returning to NYC, I checked out the Ai Weiwei exhibit at Lisson Gallery (read more here). My favorite part is definitely the wallpaper off to the side of the gallery. After speaking with the gallery employee, I learned that Ai Weiwei left little description of the wallpaper, though from the motifs it is clear that he was inspired by recent events in Syria and his time spent with refugees in Greece.

16/365: Roots and Branches by Ai Weiwei at Lisson Gallery. These stumps are iron casts! Pentax KS2 // December 22, 2016.
16/365: Roots and Branches by Ai Weiwei at Lisson Gallery. These stumps are iron casts! Pentax KS2 // December 22, 2016.

Ai has a wonderful way of combining art with political activism. He famously said, “The purpose of art is the fight for freedom.” This installation is no different. The use of tree trunks collected from Southern China alludes to the Chinese diaspora in the 50’s and 60’s, as well as shows Ai’s tendency to mix the traditional with the modern and contemporary.

The exhibit itself is also a comment on modern society. From the Gallery Press Release, “The iron roots and tree trunks shown in New York are presented in a natural, untreated state, appearing at first glance as organic forms, yet upon closer inspection, reveal their artificiality. Not born of nature but made by human hands, the works, themselves contorted by the surrounding landscape, represent a society uprooted by industrialisation and modernisation, illustrating how progress can often come at the expense of cultural and societal well-being.” (here)

There is so much that can be explored in Ai’s exhibit, too much for this blog post, but perhaps I will write a review on it at a later date. For now, enjoy some more shots taken at the gallery.

Artificiality. 2016: Roots and Branches, Ai Weiwei. Lisson Gallery, New York, NY. Pentax KS2 // December 23, 2016.
Artificiality. 2016: Roots and Branches, Ai Weiwei. Lisson Gallery, New York, NY. Pentax KS2 // December 23, 2016.
Taken by Sharon. 2016: Roots and Branches, Ai Weiwei. Lisson Gallery, New York, NY. Pentax KS2 // December 26, 2016.
Taken by Sharon. 2016: Roots and Branches, Ai Weiwei. Lisson Gallery, New York, NY. Pentax KS2 // December 23, 2016.
Sharon's outfit of the day. 2016: Roots and Branches, Ai Weiwei. Lisson Gallery, New York, NY. Pentax KS2 // December 23. 2016.
Sharon’s outfit of the day. 2016: Roots and Branches, Ai Weiwei. Lisson Gallery, New York, NY. Pentax KS2 // December 23. 2016.

All in all, it is great being home. I’m on day 5 of being home, most of which consists of lazing around in my sweet PJs.

18/365: Holiday attire. Pentax KS2 // December 25, 2016.
18/365: Holiday attire. Pentax KS2 // December 25, 2016.
Local bubble tea shop. Brooklyn, NY. Pentax KS2 // December 24, 2016.
Local bubble tea shop. Brooklyn, NY. Pentax KS2 // December 24, 2016.

In the event that I don’t post in the next week or so, have a happy new year and happy holidays!

Fin

Writer’s notes:
(1) Ai Weiwei is a well-known Chinese artist and activist. You can learn more about him here.

(2) I recently started watching Westworld, and I cannot recommend it enough. If you have access to HBO/HBO Go or have a way of getting access to it, check it out. Read more about Westworld here.

The First of Many

Cleveland Museum of Art

Above: 1/365 Seated Amitayus Buddha at the Cleveland Museum of Art (Cleveland, OH). Taken with a Pentax KS2 on December 2, 2016.

When I decided to embark on Project 365, I knew I wanted the first photo to be of the Seated Amitayus Buddha statue at the Cleveland Museum of Art. I’ve been taking a class on Buddhist Art in Asia, and have come to know the room that the statue is displayed in pretty well. In my opinion, it is one of the most striking pieces on Buddhist art that the CMA has to offer on permanent display.

For this photo, I really wanted to create a sense of formidability. In Mahayana Buddhism, Amitayus is the Buddha of Immeasurable Life. He is the principal deity in Pure Land Buddhism, which explains why he is displayed in the center of the Ancient Chinese gallery. In my opinion, the statue was really meant to be looked at from below, which is why I decided to shoot upwards. From this angle, it appears as if the Buddha is looking at you, and you really do get a sense of immense power from the statue.

In post-editing, I also wanted to strike up the contrast for two reasons – to further separate the Buddha from the rest of the background, and to emphasize the deep drapery that graces the marble. The drapery itself is more similar to Northern Indian (Gandharan) sculptures than to Chinese sculptures whose drapery is usually frillier and waterfall-like. Anyway, this is not an Art History class, so I’ll skip this technical stuff.

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View of Seated Amitayus Buddha in the Ancient Chinese Gallery at CMA. Taken with a Pentax KS2 on December 2, 2016.

Shooting in museums is quite frustrating because of all the reflective protective glass. But to my surprise, I was able to use the glass casings to my advantage in this photo (I hadn’t even noticed this until post-processing!), producing four reflections of Amitayus. This photo, I think, really creates a sense of the Buddha Amitayus being ever-present.

I decided to go with black and white in this photo in post-processing because the two bronze bells in the foreground were quite distracting in their original color. I also cheated a bit by selectively amping up the brightness of the statue, to further intensify the sense of spiritual magnificence.

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Bodhisattva at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Taken with a Pentax KS2 on December 2, 2016.

My chief purpose at the CMA, however, was really to film a segment on the Bodhisattva, the dry lacquer statue on display also in the Chinese statue gallery. Contrary to the previous photo, reflective glass is not my friend here. Because the statue was well-lit from above (bless), it meant that the reflective properties of the glass was also magnified (not bless). Unfortunately, the KS2 does not have a “through glass” setting, which I remember my old Nikon point-and-shoot having. Regardless, I was able to take some pretty reasonable photos and videos without much glare.

Funny story – when I was filming, it turns out I was on manual focus the whole time, which made my life decidedly more difficult. Silver lining is, I was able to get quite acquainted with the focus dial. It gave me flashbacks to high school when I used to work with high-power microscopes while dissecting fruit flies…

Anyway, I am pretty satisfied by the KS2’s ability to catch detail. Though I do wish it came with a better kit lens with a wider aperture, the images it produces are still very sharp, as you can see from the photo below.

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Close-up view of the foot of the Bodhisattva. Taken with a Pentax KS2 on December 2, 2016.

In this photo, you can really see the wonderful drapery of the robe that the Bodhisattva wears, as well as the texture of the cloth used to make the statue. Yep – you heard that right! This statue is not clay nor stone, it is made from cloth and lacquer via the dry lacquer technique. The process was incredibly labor intensive, expensive, and quite toxic. Very few dry lacquer statues exist today, and it’s a treat that the CMA has one on display.

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Photo of the Pentax KS2 with 18-50 mm WR kit lens. Many logos just in case you didn’t realize what brand this is. Taken with a Samsung Galaxy S6 on December 3, 2016.

Finally, I want to end this post talking a little bit about my new friend, my Pentax KS2 which I have affectionately named Marcus. It came in the mail about two days ago, and I found that I have been unable to keep my hands off of it. Seriously!

I won’t talk much about the specs, because I think it’s been covered pretty thoroughly on the interwebz. This camera is a true delight to use. I’ve used friends’ Canons and Nikons before, and they were great, but there is something very special about this particular camera. Maybe I’m being weird, but I’m hoping my photographer friends can back me up here.

I’m obviously a newbie into the photography realm. I don’t even dare to call myself a “newbie photographer”. But it seems to be the consensus among the community that it is not always about the specs of the device. The feel and grip of the device matters too! In cognitive science, we characterize well-designed products as being extensions of the user’s body. The Pentax KS2’s smaller body fits perfectly in my tiny baby hands, and the intuitive (at least to me) control dials really do make the camera feel like an extension of my hand.

I’m excited to see what type of adventures Marcus and I will embark on next! I already can’t wait for it to be daybreak already so I can go outside and find something to take pictures of. I think I’m becoming addicted to the shutter sound.

Fin.

Writer’s notes: (1) The Bodhisattva has had a pretty interesting history. Its conservation story is the subject of my Art History final project, and you can also read about it here.
(2) You can find many technical reviews of the Pentax KS2 on a plethora of websites. I also found these videos helpful: here (TheCameraStoreTV) and here (Spyros Heniadis).